GREENBURGH, N.Y. — First things first, Igor Shesterkin feels good.
The Rangers goalie had been battling a stomach bug of some sort, according to coach Gerard Gallant, in the Blueshirts’ 4-3 win Monday over the Florida Panthers at Madison Square Garden. But after making 42 saves that night and carrying his team to the win, Shesterkin got a good night’s sleep and promised he was feeling as good as new on Thursday.
Shesterkin has easily been the Rangers’ best player this season, the biggest reason for the team’s 7-3-3 record. He’s 6-2-2 with a 2.37 goals-against average and a .931 save percentage and through Wednesday’s games, had faced the second-most shots (346) of any goalie in the league. Only Vegas Golden Knights goalie Robin Lehner had faced more (359), but Lehner had played 11 games, one more than Shesterkin.
After the Rangers’ practice Thursday, Shesterkin admitted the workload he has had to shoulder this season is most likely the heaviest of his professional career.
"Probably, yeah,’’ he said, in English, without an interpreter, to a small group of local reporters. "In the game, I don’t have too many high-danger shots, because our players block a lot of shots, and I just want to say thanks for everybody. And when I have a chance to make a good save, and stop the puck, I try to do this, because I know every player in our team is trying to make a block, too.’’
And while everyone is happy the record is what it is so far, Shesterkin conceded that the barrage of rubber he is facing on a nightly basis makes it hard on him, mentally. He’s working on dealing with that, he said.
After the Florida game, in which Gallant was annoyed that his team took a 4-0 lead into the third period and nearly blew it all, the coach said his team was allowing too many shots from the slot. On Thursday, he said the reason for the defensive breakdowns are spread out among the entire team. Everyone is aware of the problem, however, and working to correct it.
"We've had some trouble defending, there's no doubt about that,’’ he said. "We're trying to make it better. We're talking about covering the slot better, obviously, doing little things better … We're battling with it. We know there's an issue there. We're fortunate to be 7-3-3. We all know that. But we're still 7-3-3.’’
Shesterkin has had a lot to do with that, and he promised he’ll keep doing his part to keep it going. He was asked if the way he’s playing now is the best he’s ever played.
"No,’’ he said. "I can play better.’’
Notes & quotes: Third-line center Filip Chytil, who missed Monday’s game due to an upper-body injury, skated on his own Thursday. Gallant said the team had hoped he might be able to practice, but he remains out day-to-day … The game against the Bruins in Boston the day after Thanksgiving has had the start time moved up to 1 p.m. and the game will now be broadcast nationally on ABC.